Monday, November 23, 2009

the non-football weekend

It's Thanksgiving week! And that means it's time to carve a turkey if you catch my drift. But first, the other sports are starting to get exciting too. Today we'll just be talking about soccer and basketball. After that, I'm going to try and cram a whole week's worth of blogging into about two and a half days, since my flight out is on Wednesday afternoon. A couple things will be sacrificed, but don't worry: not if it has to do with that hayseed, Icehouse-swilling school (a term I use generously) down the road.

Soccer first. Weirdly, the NCAA set us up a guaranteed rematch in the second (third, actually) round of the tournament should we get past Bucknell. Which we did, by the way, in spectacular fashion. Will Bates, after a slow first month and a half of the season, has officially gone apeshit, and his latest contribution to the scoresheet is a hat trick to sink Bucknell on Sunday. Now, about that rematch: our opponent for next Sunday is Portland, which was last seen allowing us to score three goals in the opening game of the season. Their defense has been like that all season - it's very mediocre, ranking 30th of 48 tournament teams at basically a goal allowed per game, good for 50th in the country. Bucknell, incidentally, ranked 49th. Portland scores a bit more than we do, though.

It might be easy to take Portland for granted given that we rolled them to start the season and that that's not exactly a major-league school in a major-league conference - except you'd be wrong about that last point when it comes to soccer. Portland went just 4-4-4 in West Coast Conference action, but that's a conference that sent four of its seven soccer-playing teams to the tournament. (Ironically, it was the bottom four in the conference's preseason coaches' poll.) They have a couple other skins on their wall, too: a regular season win over tournament team St. Louis, and of course the two wins it took them to get here, including the one over NC State. Should we beat them? Yes, handily. They're still dangerous, though.

Time to switch gears and sing the praises of Tony Bennett. Let's get this part out of the way: We beat a MAAC team and a Summit League team, yes. But:

- Rider was coming off a season-opening upset of Mississippi State, and Oral Roberts had just knocked off Stanford. Are either one the cream of their conference? No, not by a long shot, but then, neither are we, you know. And Mississippi State was ranked in the preseason poll, and still might make the tournament.

- We kicked the crap out of both of them. And we did it playing Tony Bennett defense. That's what good teams do: play their system correctly and beat the snot out of sub-major conference teams. Not that we're a good team yet, but four games into the season I'm more than willing to accept a convincing imitation of one.

So that's the kind of weekend that will do something for me that football has failed to do for many long weeks now: make me look forward to the next game like a kid who asked Santa for a new bike. I spent yesterday and today wishing I was watching us take on Stanford right now. Dammit, that's how these things should be. I don't think I've had that feeling about the football team all year.

Now, this ain't the Stanford you remember. This isn't the Stanford team that went to the NCAAs every year but one between 1995 and 2008 and only twice had a seed lower than four (including four one-seeds and five two-seeds.) This is the Stanford that went to the CBI last year and then graduated four seniors. This version of Stanford has had its frontcourt depth destroyed by injury and academic problems. They get all their scoring from their guards, and remember what I told you about teams that don't get any scoring from their big men? About how our chances are better the smaller the opponent's lineup? And Rider proved it.

Somebody will have to work very hard to contain the Cardinal's Landry Fields. This guy torches people. And if we're not careful, we'll get destroyed by Stanford's three-point shooting. They have a few guys who can launch 'em, and Tony Bennett's pack-line is a little bit vulnerable to getting beat from deep if the defenders aren't really on point as far as being in the right place at the right time. Oral Roberts was proving that for the first few minutes, and Stanford is better at it than they are. They kind of specialize in it, because they're not going to get hardly any production at all from down low.

Still, Mike Scott should have a monster game, and if they have Fields, we have Landesberg. This is a very, very winnable contest. If we want to play in any kind of a postseason tournament, this is a terrific opportunity to prove we're more than just a team that beats up on sub-majors and mid-majors. We're 3-1, which is a nice start (and the way things are going in South Florida, we might get that other one back eventually as far as the record books are concerned) and well on our way, I think, to doing what we need to do in order to get into the postseason in some flavor.


Sandmeistr said...

Bennett's got me (re)pumped for the basketball program not because we've pulled of a couple of thrashings, but because we've shown improvement each time out on the floor. It's like there's coaching going on or something.

Bird said...

I'm glad you are civil with VT blogs. We've refused to communicate with uga blogs basically since aught-5.

Brendan said...

It's because our rivalry is so jocular. Just ask President Casteen.